Tuesday, 30 June 2009


Last Friday, on our way back from Munich, my colleague Auke asked me if I could accompany him today to Vienna, to give the same presentation as we have been giving in Munich and The Hague. After 8 years in the office this is the first chance I've had to visit Vienna, a small office with approximately 120 people, in a great location, next to the Schonbrunn Palace.

We were scheduled to give the presentation twice - once in the morning, and once in the afternoon. Once we were finished we had an hour or so to spare, so we headed into the city centre to take a look around. Despite the weather forecast, which had been for heavy rain, we were treated to glorious blue skies, and the same heatwave that we have been enduring in The Netherlands.

We walked along the Ring to the opera house, stopping to pose on a traffic island (and in my case, getting surprised by a tram that snuck up behind me) and then on to St Stefansdom, before taking the S-Bahn back to the airport. All in all a long day, leaving home at 6am, and returning at 11pm, after an hour's delay. Next stop Berlin?

Monday, 29 June 2009

Eet smakelijk

Tonight I ate the first fruits, or in fact salad, of my labours. It turns out that a vegetable garden is very handy indeed when your fridge is empty and you can't be bothered to go shopping. Despite losing a number of rucola/rocket plants to the cats' overenthusiastic digging, enough remains for a few meals yet. As for the taste - definitely superior to that on offer at the supermarket (even Rasha seems to think so!)

Other vegetable news - the first signs of beans are appearing, and the fennel is also putting a look in, with the largest bulb being about 1.5 inches long. The potatoes are growing apace, and the onions and carrots are making good progress.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Bird of Prey Workshop

Today I went back to the Valkerij Manege, this time, not for a photo workshop, but to try my hand at falconry itself. The workshop began with a more detailed introduction into the history and art of falconry, and was very informative. I was surprised to hear that amongst other things, the aristocracy used to catch (and then release) herons as a sport.

Into the field, and we practiced throwing the lure, then back into the cowshed, where we used the railings to learn how to tie a falconer's knot. Then it was time for the serious stuff - 5 birds were brought out - a red tailed hawk, a buzzard, a milky uhu, an indian eagle owl and a kestrel (if I remember/translated correctly), and we all had a chance to hold them.

Finally, it was flight time. We lined up at both ends of the field, and took it in turns to catch two harrier hawks and two indian eagle owls. The eagle owls were particularly exciting to see, as they were mere bundles of fluff on my last visit. Once we had our turn, we watched the "big stuff" fly - a vulture, two bald eagles and a falcon.

At the end of the day, I decided to make the most of the good weather and cycle back home a slightly longer route, via the Ackerdijkse Plassen. And just to finish off a perfect bird filled day - spotted 3 storks along the way!

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Choral Evensong - 27th June 2009

The last choral evensong of the season didn't get off to a great start as, thanks to the Dutch Railways, I wasn't able to make it to Friday's practice. Still, despite sweltering in our robes, we made it through the whole of Wesley's Ascribe unto the Lord, a 14 minute epic which has been stuck in my head ever since.

Introit: Be still my soul, Whitlock
Responses: Nardone
Office Hymn: ?
Psalm: ?
Canticles: Day
Anthem: Ascribe unto the Lord, S.S.Wesley

Thursday, 25 June 2009


Just back from a two day visit to Munich with a couple of colleagues. The purpose of the trip was twofold - to inform other departments about my new project, and also to close the last project I worked on.

Unfortunately, we had to leave the unusually good Dutch weather behind, and replace it with rain. The barbecue that a Munich colleague had offered was unfortunately a no-go, and instead we visited a very nice Italian restaurant near our hotel. Despite the weather, I was determined not to get behind with my training, and managed a 4km lunchtime run around the Wiesen (where the Oktoberfest is held) with Klaas, the aforementioned BBQ offering colleague.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Choral Festival 2009

A long day today, as I traveled to Arnhem for the annual choral festival organized by the RSCM in North West Europe. There was a good turnout, with about 60 singers from choirs in The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, led by Gordon Appleton of the RSCM, who flew over for the event.

As ever, it was nice to meet up with all my ECS friends, especially as those of us who took the RSCM Voice for Life exams last week had the chance to congratulate each other in person!

The choral festival is always fun, but hard work, and this year was no exception. A particular challenge were Moore's Preces and Responses, which took quite some studying. The day culminated with a service of Choral Evensong, during which those of us who took the Voice for Life exams last week were presented with our medals.

Thanks go to Karine, Graham, Martin and Alan for not only organizing the exams, putting up with our nerves, accompanying and examining us, but also for managing to return the results within a day, and have the medals (well, all but one) and the certificates signed by the director of the RSCM and ready within a week!

Music List:

  • Introit: The Lord will come and not be slow Christopher Tye
  • Preces and responses: Philip Moore
  • Psalm 27
  • Canticles: Wood in E flat (no 1)
  • Anthem: Kindle a light to lighten the darkness Richard Lloyd
  • Extroit: A Clare Benediction John Rutter

Friday, 19 June 2009

BHV Herhaling

After a week of writing presentations and reviewing code, I had a nice break today, with my annual refresher course for the BHV. For those not in the know, this stands for bedrijfshulpverlening, and involves basic first aid and firefighting, with the idea that volunteers within the office could provide on the spot help, before the emergency services arrive.

I travelled to RICAS in Zoetemeer for the course - a nice 13 km bike ride through the fields, and had perfect weather for it. The course itself was pepped up by the presence of two volunteers from Lotus, an organization which provides fake victims for training courses. During the morning we had to deal with a heart attack and a knife wound to the arm, courtesy of the volunteers, who played their parts admirably.

In the afternoon we played firefighter, using carbon dioxide and foam fire extinguishers, and then had the opportunity to split into small groups to put together our own scenario for another group of BHVers to test their skills. My group was given the task of rescuing someone from a building with a small fire, complete of course with handling the panicking victims!

All in all an instructive day, which also gave a good opportunity to meet some colleagues from other departments.

(photo from RICAS)

Wednesday, 17 June 2009


After 7 years in the office, I finally took part in the annual PatentRun, a 6km loop through the nearby Elsenberger Bos. I left the decision to sign up until the last moment, as I wanted to wait and see how the Rotterdam Ladies Run went. In the end, I don't think it would have mattered, as Emily (friend and running guru) was determined that we should both take part, and dragged me to the sign up desk before we went for a spinning class on Monday.

Unlike every other race I've run in so far, today we actually had good weather. A mixed blessing, as I'm not at all used to running in the heat, and was surprised how much more tiring it was when compared to Sunday's rainy run.

The other difference to my race experience so far was the inclusion of a hill in the course (by Dutch standards, a mountain!) which defeated me somewhat, especially as we had to tackle it twice, from two different approached. Much as I'd hoped to run the whole course, I did have to resort to walking up part of the hill.

There were a few familiar faces along the course - colleagues who were helping out as race marshalls and cheerleaders. The African percussion group were also out in force to encourage us as we left and returned to the EPO.

By the time I had covered 5 kilometers I was feeling the strain, and was very relieved when I finally had the EPO back in my sights. Having entered the EPO premises, there was one final hurdle - a ramp up to the garden and the finish line. I wasn't quite sure how I was going to find the energy to make it up, but the cheers of some of my team members spurred me on, and filled me with a burst of enery. Onto the final stretch and I caught sight of the clock, which was showing 37 minutes, and spurred on by the fact that I'd managed a time under 40 minutes, I produced a sprint to take me over the finish line.

Well, I was very proud of myself. Whilst for many of the participants, 6km is a stroll in the park, this was the first time in about 15 months that I had run this far. And whilst I might have been somewhere in the last 10 runners, my time was definitely faster than I'd managed in Sunday's 5K. Or so I thought...

Alas, it turned out that for some reason (some say a mistake, some say a deliberate choice because of the heat), the course was cut short by about 500m. On calculation, it turns out that my average pace was the same as I ran in Rotterdam... very disappointing indeed.

(thanks to Loek and Jules for the photos)

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Rotterdam LadiesRun 5K - Official Results

As I mentioned in Rotterdam LadiesRun 5K, I was very pleased with the time I had recorded on my watch - 32:42. Unfortunately, when I got home and checked the official race time, I discovered that in fact my recorded chip time was rather slower - 33:41, a mere 13 seconds faster than my Leiden time. (My bruto time was 36:45, which just goes to show what a difference it makes when you are at the back of the pack). Looking more closely at the tracks from the watch, it appears to have only recorded 4.8km, which seems to correlate with the improved time - not sure what happened, but I can only imagine that I accidently paused it at some point.

In the meantime, the official photos are now in. Despite my best efforts to smile as I reached the finish, they're pretty dreadful. Still, the background is nice, and I like that you can see that there were people who were slower than me!

I had some challenges figuring out my position in the race this time. The official results base everything on bruto times, which are more or less useless, given that it took 3-4 minutes to get everyone over the starting line, and that I was somewhere near the end. Eventually I figured out that not only were the full results were available on www.uitslagen.nl, but that they were conveniently downloadable in Excel format.

The graph shows the distribution of times for all participants in my race, and also the distribution from everyone in my category (women under 35). The darker green bar is where my time fell. I had hoped to put the two into a single chart, but Excel told me that it was too complicated. Quite why, I have no idea. It seemed straightforward to me.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Voice for Life - Bronze Award - Results

The first thing that was on my mind when I got home from Rotterdam was the Voice for Life - were the results already in?

A quick check of my inbox showed an influx of mail - messages via Facebook from my fellow candidates, and the all important e-mail with the results. I passed with merit! Reading through the Facebook messages, I quickly found out that everyone else had passed as well - a great result both for us, and also for the RSCM North West Europe.

Rotterdam LadiesRun 5K

Yet another race day has dawned with the unmistakable sound of rain. Today was the LadiesRun in Rotterdam, an event which is held in aid of Pink Ribbon, a breast cancer charity.

As if to follow my run of bad luck with public transport, Emmy and I made the mistake of following the instructions given by 9292 ov, a public transport website, which led us to leave the train at Schiedam, and take the metro (after a painful battle with the new chipcard system which is in use in Rotterdam and surrounding areas) to a random part of Rotterdam. More by luck that good management, we navigated by the EuroMast, and occasional glimpses of the Erasmusbrug, where the race was starting. By the time we arrived, my race, the 5K, was already getting lined up, and I had just enough time to use the facilities and to find myself a spot at the back of the pack.

The official starting point of the race was near the middle of the Erasmusbrug. A good reason, it turned out, to make sure you were near the front, as those of us near the back had to start with the hard slog uphill, before we even crossed the starting line. After that of course, we did at least have the pleasure of running downhill before a flat stretch to the Willemsbrug. Despite the bridges, the first 3K were fairly easy running, and I even found myself overtaking people. There were various water stops along the way, which proved annoying as I kept getting stuck behind people who slowed down, or even stopped, to take a drink.

During the fourth kilometer I could feel myself tiring, and my pace slowed a little. This section was through a residential area with paved streets - less comfortable for running than the main road. Soon enough though, I reached the 4K marker and knew that the end was in sight. Approaching the finish line, the noise level increased as the sound of clapping and cheering, competed with the music system. Sprinting over the finish line, I managed to press the stop button on my Forerunner, and was elated to see that I'd done the race in 32:42, over a minute faster than Leiden.

After a quick post-race conflab with Emmy, it was time for her to run in the 10K. Like me, she ended up at the back of the pack, and had a bit of a slow start before the back of the race were able to start running. After the start, I went back to the Cruise Terminal to collect my medal and goodie bag, and then went back to see if I could spot her. The 10K route was simple - two laps of the 5K route, meaning that the runners had to cross the Erasmusbrug at the 5K point. I found myself a good spot on a block at the side of the road, and waited for her to come through. Spotting her, one pink t-shirt amongst many, was a bit of a problem, but I did see her, although I wasn't quick enough to take a photo.

I waited until the rest of the runners came through, cheering along those at the end, with whom I had a lot of sympathy, and then went to find a spot on the finish line. Being small, it's always a challenge to be able to see in a crowd, so I quickly gave up on the idea of taking photos, and just watched as the first runners streamed through. After cheering Emmy through the finish line, I fought my way back out of the crowd, and went to meet her. We collected her medal, and then posed for a finisher's photo. Unfortunately, we took the photo under the shadow of the cruise terminal, and then in all the excitement, dropped the camera before we had the chance to take a better photo... this one will just have to do!

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Voice for Life - Bronze Award

It's been the sort of week where nothing goes according to plan, so I suppose I should have been wary of putting my travel plans down to Antwerp in the hands of both the Dutch and Belgian railways. As it happened the usually 1.5 hour journey took 4 hours, and involved 4 trains and a bus. I finally arrived in Antwerp at 3pm, half an hour after my exam should have been over.

Luckily for me, I bumped into one of the other candidates (they were all fellow ECS members) during the long wait for the bus at Essen, so we were able to keep each other company during the delays and the painfully slow local train from Kapellen to Antwerp, when we spent the whole journey crammed like sardines in the guard's van. As the accompanist, and all the other candidates bar one, were also delayed, I was still able to take the exam, albeit a little behind schedule.

The question that of course everyone has been asking me the last few days, is "what's this singing thing you're doing, then?". The answer is that it is a scheme organized by the Royal School of Church Music (RSCM) which, to quote the RSCM, "provides a framework for choral singers to develop their vocal skills, their musical understanding and their knowledge of repertoire". If you've ever seen a cathedral chorister with a medal round his neck - this is more or less what it's about. Taking part in this round of exams was particularly exciting, as it's the first time they've been held in the North West Europe branch of the RSCM.

Despite the fact that I made the wise choice to start at the easiest level, it's fair to say that I've been worrying about the exam all week, even more so since the run through I had on Tuesday with Martin proved just how difficult it is to sing when you're suffering from nerves. In the event, of course, it was over before I knew it. My prepared pieces went ok, but could have been better, and the aural tests were fine, with the exception of interval recognition, which I screwed up royally. After all of my panicking about the "choir in context" section, focusing on the liturgical aspect to the music we sing, this turned out to be less detailed than I had anticipated, and I couldn't help wondering why I'd been walking around armed with such a stack of information.

As I was the last candidate of the day, once my exam was over, it was time for us all to pile back to the station and take the train home. Still some delays on the line, but we made it in a mere 2.5 hours, with no unexpected changes. Time enough to relax, and enjoy a glass of wine in transit. Now it's just a question of waiting for the results, which fortunately should come through soon, in time for the medals to be presented at next week's Choral Festival.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

One small step for Rasha and Zephyr...

... one giant leap for kittenkind ... or something like that, anyway.

Except that in all honesty, letting the kittens outside was a far smaller step for them than it was for me. First of all, the wrestling to put their collars back on (especially in the case of Zephyr who took his off 3 times before I could even get him outside!), and then standing back and watching them explore.

As it happens, I haven't yet taken the supreme step of letting them free to roam outside the garden, though once they got their confidence up, they both started showing an interest in the greater world. So far, though, I've managed to keep them (with much disentangling of claws from fence) in the back garden. Rupert isn't entirely sure what to make of the kitten invasion into what, up til now, has been his place alone.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Choral Evensong - 6th June 2009

Introit: O sing joyfully, Batten
Responses: Neary
Office hymn: Adesto Sancta Trinitas
Psalm: 8 Noble
Canticles: Short Service, Ayleward
Anthem: Hymn to the Cherubim, Tchaikovsky